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john doyle

Less than two weeks ago, NBC launched a new drama, Do No Harm, and hardly anybody noticed.

After two episodes, NBC killed it. The show, a nitwit version of the old Jekyll/Hyde premise – the hero is a brilliant neurosurgeon by day, but a vicious, womanizing, cigarette-smoking, boozing creep by night – had one of the lowest-rated mid-season premieres in the history of U.S. network TV. The second episode drew 20-per-cent fewer viewers even than the first, so it was canned.

Meanwhile, the return of The Walking Dead last Sunday drew almost as many viewers on cable channel AMC as American Idol has been getting on Fox. Yes, even with the Grammy Awards for big-time competition the same evening.

Oh, it's a mad time of the year, this mid-season period. And it ain't over till it's over. There's more to come – new and returning, good, bad and indifferent. Here's a short list of what to look out for and, you know, avoid. Some shows will be covered in much more detail in this column, as they arrive.

Zero Hour(Thursday, ABC, Global) is convoluted nonsense. Or, as ABC puts it, "A man's search for his wife leads to a larger quest to save humanity." Indeedy. The old "saving humanity" routine. Anthony Edwards, a long, long way from his ER days, plays Hank Galliston, a magazine publisher who debunks "myths and conspiracies" but finds himself in the midst of a global conspiracy. It just goes to show, doesn't it? Anyway, his missus is kidnapped. There's a theme about the Nazis, also clocks that hold secret maps, a subplot about submarines and, of course, "a tenacious FBI agent." All that's missing is zombies, which is a pity.

Cult(Feb. 19, the The CW, CTV Two) is also way convoluted, but features younger, better-looking people. It's a show-within-a-show, or as the intellectuals in Los Angeles like to put it, "meta." This teenage guy Nate (James Pizzinato) tells his brother, journalist Jeff (Matt Davis), that a TV show is out to get him – a show with a rabid following called Cult, which is about a cult and its crazy-like-a-fox cult leader (Robert Knepper, who was T-Bag on Prison Break). Turns out Nate might have a point. The series dwells lightly on fan obsession and the dangers of taking TV too seriously, which, of course, we never do in this column. Worth a look.

Golden Boy (Feb. 26, CBS, CTV Two) is your (groan now) CBS-type police procedural with a twist. The main character, one Walter William Clark, Jr. (Theo James ) is the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City. How did he get there? That question is answered through much flashback to incidents in his meteoric career. Is he genuinely talented, corrupt or a ruthless schemer? The pilot is expertly made to merge the past with the present, and the dialogue has bite. Could be good.

Parade's End (Feb. 26, HBO Canada) is delightful, but a bit demented, a sort of Downton Abbey on acid. An HBO/BBC production derived from the quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford, it has Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes on Sherlock) as a chap torn between his straying wife (Rebecca Hall, being delightful) and a young suffragette. At times it's dead serious, as when our hero goes off to the First World War, and at times it's like a P.G. Wodehouse lark.

Big Brother Canada (Feb. 27, Slice) is what it is – offering you extraordinary access to a buncha goofs.

Vikings (March 3, History) is an Irish/Canadian co-production from the people who made The Tudors. Here, we are asked to admire the Viking conquest of parts of Europe, back in the day. Pillage and similar antics by stout-hearted fellas. Swords and sex. From the teasers, it looks gloomy but could be Game ofThrones-ish without sunshine.

Red Widow (March 3, ABC, CTV Two) has a plodding pilot in which the wife (Radha Mitchell) of a Russian mob guy/drug dealer in California takes over the drug racket after her husband's murder. She is torn between maintaining a normal life for the kids and loyalty to her husband's code and kin. Extreme silliness presented as serious drama.

In the department-of-returning-shows, note that Game of Thrones is back, on HBO Canada on March 31 – and might garner more viewers than most new or returning network shows.

Mid-season goes on and on. You have been informed and warned.